To have a meal with chopsticks is to engage in the immaterial world of relationships and ideas. People don’t use chopsticks in a restaurant to show their dexterity. Rather, it demonstrates one can navigate different cultural contexts, adapt to various social environments, and demonstrate a level of open mindedness. These are all fine purposes, but they have little to do with the pragmatic task of moving pieces of food from the plate to the mouth. And in many contexts, the temptation is to master chopsticks to fake sophistication. Seth Higgins, “On Lug Wrenches and Chopsticks, in Front Porch Republic
When I worked in an office, back in the early days of this century, I used to walk across the street to the grocery store on my lunch break to make a salad at the salad bar, which I took back to eat at my desk. I have always loved salad bars, maybe because when I was a kid they were the only chance I had to choose whatever I wanted to eat. Choice and abundance! Very American. Anyhow: I enjoyed my salad-bar lunches, but I found them difficult to eat. A fork is lousy at picking up raw carrots, no less so if they are grated — and more so if the fork is one of the plastic ones they give you at the store. Actually forks are pretty lousy at picking up raw vegetables, period. Radish? Cucumber? I felt like I was trying to kill Dracula. Have you ever tried eating raw spinach with a plastic fork? And let’s not even talk about those baby ears of corn.
Then I found, in my desk drawer, an unused pair of takeout chopsticks from a Chinese restaurant. And they worked. They worked really well. They picked up everything, from baby corn to the last little bits of shredded carrot. They worked so well that to this day I eat salad with chopsticks — at home, when nobody is watching — simply because they are more efficient than a fork.
Sometimes, to paraphrase something Freud may or may not ever have said, a pair of chopsticks is just a pair of chopsticks. And pretty much all the time, you’re better off choosing the right tool for the job instead of thinking of tools as symbols.